Most of us love foods made with grains: breads, pastas, cereals, bagels, pastries and cakes. All delicious and irresistible! But while it’s true that all grains are good sources of complex carbohydrates (and some vitamins and minerals), we often ignore the healthiest kinds of grains: whole grains.

WHAT ARE WHOLE GRAINS?

A description: A whole grain has three parts: the bran (the outer layer), the germ (the seed’s embryo), and the endosperm (the germ’s food supply). Whole grains are grains that have all three parts intact. Most are high in iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, selenium, B vitamins and dietary fiber. Whole grains can be in the form of single foods, such as brown rice and popcorn, or ingredients contained in foods, such as the wheat flour in bread.

REFINED GRAINS, on the other hand, are grains milled to have the germ and bran removed. Although this creates a smoother and more palatable product, the refining process also removes many valuable nutrients, including fiber. Most of your favorite foods contain refined grains, including white flour, white rice and white bread. Many desserts, cereals, crackers and pastries are made with refined grains.

ENRICHED GRAINS, a third grouping of grains, are refined grains, which have had some of their lost nutrients replaced with other vitamins, minerals and nutrients. For example, your favorite breakfast cereal may be fortified with additives that do not occur naturally in the product.

Research has shown that choosing whole grains over refined grains is linked with lower risks of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. In order to ensure a healthful, nutritious diet, a good rule of thumb is to make at least half the grains in your diet whole grains. This can be an interesting challenge. Next time you are shopping at your local grocery or health food store, try looking for whole-grain versions of rice, bread, cereal and pasta.

Examples of healthy whole grain foods:

  • Whole oats
  • Whole wheat flour
  • Whole-grain rye or pumpernickel flour
  • Buckwheat
  • Bulgur (cracked) wheat
  • Millet
  • Whole (hulled) barley
  • Spelt
  • Quinoa
  • Brown rice
  • Corn
  • Popcorn
  • Whole-grain breads
  • Whole-grain and whole-wheat pasta

And here are some tips on how to enjoy more whole grains in your diet:

  1. Choose whole-grain breakfast cereals, such as whole-grain bran flakes, shredded wheat or oatmeal.
  2. Substitute whole-wheat toast or bagels for white toast or bagels.
  3. Make sandwiches using whole-grain bread or rolls.
  4. Replace white rice with quinoa, brown rice or barley.
  5. Add wild rice or barley to soups, stews and salads.
  6. Mix whole-grain breadcrumbs or rolled oats with ground meat, instead of using white breadcrumbs.

If refined grains are still a large part of your diet, try trading them for a few whole-grain alternatives. This will not only help you to develop a healthier lifestyle but will also make your meals more interesting!

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